I hope this message finds you well and enjoying the final days of summer vacation. It’s so exciting to see all the posts about tips, ideas, and positive reminders about education on our Facebook page. It’s a prime example of how seriously we take our profession. While many of us have spent the past few months preparing our classrooms, working summer jobs, or relaxing with family and friends, the Executive Council has been hard at work preparing for the upcoming school year. Our PR&R committee has been protecting our rights in regards to personal day usage, and our bargaining team has begun preparing for upcoming negotiations with the Board. The Executive Council met during the summer and planned various events and activities to support the membership, and many of us attended summer workshops to help our association become more efficient and responsive to your needs. We also planned several events for the first half of the year help make our jobs even more rewarding and fun! Please see the association website and upcoming handouts for more details on these activities.
On the state level the past year has been quite a rollercoaster ride for our profession. We entered this profession because we care about kids and want to make a difference. Instead of being commended for our career choices, we started the year with attacks on our pensions, benefits, and hard-earned salaries. We saw our profession denigrated in the Statehouse, the media, and even in our own communities. We endured so-called ‘reformers’ with no education background calling the shots on how we should do our jobs. NJEA and its members (us) hit a low point and the future seemed dim. While we may have been down, we weren’t out of the fight. Instead of just saying no to bad ideas, NJEA responded to these attacks with a bold, aggressive education reform plan that gave educators an alternative to the Christie agenda. This resulted in a major legislative victory on tenure reform and repositioned the NJEA as both a political force and a leading voice on educational issues in New Jersey. The new tenure reform law makes the process to remove ineffective teachers faster and less expensive while still protecting our due process rights. Under the new law, the time to earn tenure has been increased to four years for newly hired teachers while current employees will still earn tenure after three years of successful teaching. To put this victory into perspective, consider that the original legislation favored by the governor would have eliminated due process, seniority rights, and could have resulted in a teacher NEVER earning tenure. Additionally, consider what happened to our colleagues in other states – including political powerhouses like Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Alabama, just to name a few – have seen their rights trampled by their Governors and Legislatures. And Governor Christie had promised to add us to the national hit list.
The victories we won for our public school and our profession this year didn’t happen because benevolent legislators wanted to thank us for a job well done. They happened because WE took action…Because we ORGANIZED. You know, NJEA and the NBCRTA are more than a building in Trenton or a group of union people working on our behalf. WE are the NJEA and the NBCRTA. Our membership in a union is not an insurance policy, it’s more like a gym membership – we are not going to get stronger and healthier unless we all show up and do the hard work it takes. We did that this past year. We hit the streets when we had to…we lobbied legislators in their home districts…we organized communities. Organizing is not a complicated concept it’s simply about building relationships.
As professional educators, we know firsthand the necessity of cultivating an atmosphere of collaboration and teaching excellence for our students. We know firsthand the importance of giving children strong support during their school careers. We know firsthand that parents need to be partners in the education of their children. That’s why we need to share our knowledge, experiences, and expertise with legislators and decision makers. We also have to partner with parents and stand together as powerful advocates for children.
We don’t have to be NJEA employees or an officer or executive council member of the NBCRTA to lobby legislators or build coalitions. WE are ADVOCATES too! We should share our stories and educate our communities about the issues that matter to us as educators.
While we managed to stop some of the anti-public education forces this year, there are still many fights ahead. We have concerns about the yet-to-be finalized evaluation process, and there are both state and national elections coming up. We need to make our voices heard on both these issues in the election booth. These past few years have shown that many decisions in the State House and White House have negatively impacted our public schools. To help us support candidates who support us, NJEA has made recommendations in the Presidential and Congressional elections and three State assembly races. I urge you to read the NJEA Reporter and visit our website www.NBCRTA.org to stay informed.
On a local level we have to take control of the dialogue about our schools, our communities, and our union. So make every effort to speak with your Association rep and share with them your interests, concerns, and key issues. GET INVOLVED!!
Next week will start a new year. Some things we can expect. Some things will come as a surprise. But one thing we can all count on is our collective strength, wisdom, and dedication. It is an honor to serve as your Association President and I wish you all the best of luck for a great school year!!!